EDM# 35: Draw a bicycle or a part of one

I painted this yesterday but tried to take my time in developing it rather than rush to scan and upload it. I made it with gouache and drew (most of) it freehand with a brush.  I am replacing my habits developed over years of watercoloring with the approach I used when I was a teenager and first started painting in acrylic. I find gouache quite challenging because I can’t layer color which so often helps me hid my mistakes. With this opaque medium, I have to lay down the color and be satisfied with it before adding the next and it can be quite annoying. I’ll try to explain more about this by showing you a couple of steps I took.

First I painted my vestibule, using flat colors and with little indication of lighting. This was fairly straightforward once I had  a grip on the perspective and I just mixed up a color and then created  a lighter version to make the lighter part of the wall or floor. Probably the hardest color to mix was the parquet floor in lower left just because I had to figure out how to make a darker brown using only yellow and an ochre and blue.

When it was good and dry, I lightly sketched in the bicycle. Then I painted it in with black and white gouache. As you can see, the red wall started to leach into the white of the tires, so I let it dry and added another coat of white which helped a bit but not completely. I wanted to add a bit of the shadow that the bike threw on the wall but  didn’t want to paint around the bike to add a darker red so instead I tried to lighten the rest of the wall with a bit of watered-down white.

I don’t know if this painting is done completely. I should go in and erase the white pencil lines, darken the tires and hit the white one more time to get rid of the pink — and maybe I shall. I also fought the impulse to scrawl a caption on the floor with my dip pen (both Jack and Tommy Kane urged me to just leave the damned things as it is) and I remain of two minds about it.

Before I began painting, I spent a fair amount of time looking at the work of Taliah Lempert, an artist I have always admired, who does nothing but drawn and paint and make prints of bikes. Her work is really lovely and instructive.

EDM #33: Draw an eye

When I was ten and lived with my grandfather, I remember pouring over his medical textbooks, engrossed in the excitingly horrific illustrations that exposed the inner workings of our viscera. Sliced open chest cavities, skulls that doffed their caps, cross sections of reproductive systems, all depicted in airbrushed perfection and meticulously labeled— they were my first form of porn.

I made this particular drawing during my lunch break, in my meeting notebook, with ball point pens, crayons, highlighters and a Sharpie. It’s the sort of violent image that’s still quite deliciously enticing to the prepubescent boy crouched inside me, snickering. I probably drew the same sort of thing in my fourth grade notebook.

EDM #32: Draw something metallic

This is the work of my fine Lamy Safari and a hint of sumi ink. But most of the credit goes to  patience, to slowing way, way down and just enjoying the calm that enveloped me and my desk. I drew this last night as Jack was at a concert in Brooklyn and my dogs were working on rawhide bones at my feet. The Dixon Brothers (Howard and Dorsey) sang about Jesus, whiskey and penury from my speakers and the air conditioner hummed in the corner. I studied each reflection in the corkscrew, breaking it down to three or four tones and carefully recording them.

I knew where I had fudged a line here and there, despite my care and slow pace, and I could still here that recriminating voice muttering in a corner of my skull. Whatever the hectoring spectre was that hung over me recently (addressed so lovingly and helpfully by all of your comments about my last post), it was still lurking when I recapped my pen so I started drawing a grid in the background and then filling in squares. Still unsatisfied, I pulled out my calligraphy nib. Then I just left my book on my desk and went to bed to read. I’d enjoyed the process but was still unsure about the drawing. And the muttering.

This morning, I passed through my study on the way to get some iced coffee and saw the page and thought “not bad.” Maybe some shoemaker’s elves worked on it over night or maybe the self-doubt has lifted.

In your comments, some of you suggested that the limitations of the EDM Challenges could be to blame, that having proscribed assignments was making me stiff and restricted. I think that’s probably true but it’s also part of the process. For me, now, being forced to work on one mundane drawing after the next is driving me deeper inside drawing, making me do something specific each day, filling the page, making marks, and thinking about art each and every day. Sometimes it’s painful and raises demons, sometimes it’s a mess, but I think it’s the only way to fight back the excuses and just keep at it until I breakthrough to something new.

Watching the Olympics is reinforcing my commitment. Imagine working day after day since you were a little kid on balancing on a beam or running 100 meters and then having all of that work and sacrifice come down to a single instance on a  single day in a far-off land in front of billions of eyeballs. It’s pretty extraordinary. And the miracle, the fluidity of the moment is only possible because of all the discipline, the repetition, the working through pain and boredom that preceded it.

We all want to be able to draw beautifully every time. The myth of ‘talent’ is that we are either born with it or not, just like sprinters are genetically determined to have long legs, swimmers to have broad chests, hurdlers to have elaborate hairstyles. But the fact that I will never be Michelangelo or Picasso or Phelps isn’t going to stop  me from being Gregory, from being as good at being me as I can be. Greatness isn’t necessary to proceed. And the occasional low score from the judges wont make me hang up my leotard.

I’m not going for the gold. Just for the stainless steel.

EDM #31: Draw something you collect

I got my first piece of taxidermy when I was a teenager, a moldering old fox head. Over the decades my collection grew; Patti and I gave each other stuffed dead animals for birthdays and anniversaries until we had a full-blown Adams Family effect. I have culled our collection a bit but there are still snouts and beaks peaking around most corners.

These guys fill the wall of my study — five calm sentries watching over me while I type this. I have drawn them many times as they are interesting from every angle. This time I tackled them with a Faber Castell PITT pen with an XS point. It was a frustrating reminder of why I love my fountain pens. While the PITT doesn’t stain my fingers and has a decent black line, like the specimens on my walls, it dies all too quickly. Sure enough, midway, the pen began to cough and splutter and finally gave up the ghost as I drew the last antler. I finished things up with my Lamy, a dip pen, and a brush with a  bit of sumi.

Let me be honest about something—while I have drawn every day for the past month and some, I can’t say I have done more than one or two pieces I actually like. This one again is not one of them. I need to do some soul searching now that I am back from vacation and figure out what is up. Is it the pace? Is it the hour? Is it the subject matter? The materials? My brain? There’s no question that its a good thing to sustain the habit of drawing each day but I would like to be more pleased with the results.


EDM# 30: Draw a chair. See a new place.

Jack and I are back from our visit to the Crooked Trail of western Virginia. We drove 1,400 miles in six days, visited six states, heard a lot of music, ate one salad, did a small amount of drawing, and had  a great time.

We saw beautiful places like Mabry Mill in Meadows of Dan, Virginia.

We ate lots of interesting Southern vittles.

We were sorely tempted.

We visited the phenomenal O. Wilson Link Museum, the coolest thing in Roanoke.

We visited Roadside America in Shartlesville, PA, the world’s coolest miniature village.

Seriously, the coolest. This is not one of those tilt-lens pictures that make reality look like a miniature. It’s a miniature that looks an awful lot like the real thing.

We got bossed around by signs a fair amount.

This was our trip credo.

We saw some fantastic old time music shows, like this one in Floyd VA’s Country Store.

And this one at the Carter Family Fold, the Mecca and Ground Zero of country music.

We visited a mess of log cabins.

And hung out at Appomattox, where the Civil War ended in 1865.

The mountains were smoky. We had rain, fog, but mainly lovely sunshine.

A spooky moment one night in Floyd.

And I drew a chair. Or two. And some hungry musicians.

I prepainted the page in watercolor before I left, then knocked out this Safari sketch and tinted it with sumi ink and a white pencil.

You can see more of my photos on my tumblr.